Chill with Hackaday this Saturday after BAMF

It’s that time of year again, the pilgrimage to see and be seen in the Bay Area for Maker Faire. We’re excited to explore what people have been feverishly trying to finish up over the last weeks and months. But all that rubbernecking is tiring, and it makes us thirsty. It is with great joy that we officially announce Hackaday’s Second Annual BAMF Meetup.

Last year we closed our eyes and landed a finger on the Google Map. Further inspection revealed our digit had landed on O’Neil’s Irish Pub. It’s just our kind of place, nice with a comforting hint of dive-bar, plenty of seating, and a great drink selection. So we’re doing it again this year.

We’ll be there on Saturday starting at 7pm. Be so kind as to RSVP just to tell us know you’re coming. We love seeing what hardware people bring; last year we oohed and aahed over a top-secret smartphone prototype shown off alongside all the home-builds people were pulling out of pockets and backpacks.

You have to do something with your Saturday nights… This decision is an easy one to make. See you in a few days!

PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry

It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works really really well. The PicoRico team built a telemetry system for a downhill bike. Off the top of your head how would you do this? Well, telemetry is easy… just add an IMU board and you’re golden. They went beyond that and have plans to go much further. In fact, the IMU was an afterthought. The gem of this build is a sensor that may go by several names: string encoder, draw wire sensor, stringpot, etc. But two things are for sure, they planned well for their hackathon build and they executed on that plan. This landed them as first-runners-up for the top award at the 2015 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, and the winners of the top Hackaday award at the event.

picorico-thumb[Chris], [Marek], and [Dorian] wanted to log all the telemetry data from [Chris’] downhill bike. One of the biggest challenges is to measure the force absorbed by the suspension on the front fork. The three had seen a few attempts at this before. Those used a retractable wire like what holds keys to a custodian’s belt, mated with a potentiometer to measure the change. This is where the term stringpot comes from. The problem is that your resolution and sensitivity aren’t very reliable with this setup.

That is a sensor problem, not a mechanical problem so they kept the retractable reel and replaced the pot with a much more reliable part. In its place an AMT203 absolute position sensor provides an epic level of sensing. According to the datasheet (PDF) this SPI device senses 12 bits of rotation data, can be zeroed over the SPI bus, and is accurate to 0.2 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good up-close shot of the installation but it is shown in the video. The encoder and retractor mount above the shocks, with the string stretching down to the skewer. When the shocks actuate, the string extends and retracts, turning the absolute encoder. Combine this with the IMU (and two other IMUs they plan to add) and you’ve got a mountain of data to plot and analyze. The videos after the break show a demo of the string encoder and an interview with the team.

picorico-packing-heavyThey came to play

It’s worth noting that the PicoRico team were in this to win it. They packed heavy for the 20-hour hackathon. Here’s a picture of all the gear they brought along with them to the event… in addition to the bike itself.

We see a solder station, Dremel (with drill press), impact driver, tap and die set, extension cords, boxes full of electronics, and more. This type of planning breaks down barriers often faced at hardware hackathons. You can download a software library; you can’t download a tool or building material that nobody has with them. This is the same lesson we learned from [Kenji Larsen] who, as part of his mentoring at the event, brought a mobile fabrication facility in a roller bag.

If you start getting into hackathons, and we hope you will, keep this in mind. Brainstorm as much as you can leading up to the event, and bring your trusted gear along for the ride.

Continue reading “PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry”

Review: uISP programmer for AVR

I got into AVR chips because they are easy to program, and that has become more and more true over the years with the ever-falling cost of programmers. But it’s pretty easy to make a mistake when burning the fuses on the chips and if you don’t have a proper programmer (my first programmer was a horrifyingly slow self-built DAPA cable) you’ll have a brick on your hands. This little board may be able to help in that situation. I gave the USB µISP a try this week. The half-stick-of-gum-sized board flashes firmware like a champ and includes a rescue pin for when you have clock source problems.

My full review is below. All technical information for the µISP can be found in the User’s guide. The board itself is now available to purchase in the Hackaday Store.

Continue reading “Review: uISP programmer for AVR”

C.H.I.P. is a Linux Trojan Horse for Nine Bucks

I’m sure you’ve already heard about C.H.I.P, the $9 Linux computer. It is certainly sexy to say nine-bucks but there should really be an asterisk next to that number. If you want things like VGA or HDMI you need an adapter board which adds cost (natively the board only supports composite video output). I also have questions about MSRP once the Kickstarter is fulfilled. But what’s on my mind isn’t cost; this is still going to be in the realm of extremely-inexpensive no matter what shakes out. Instead, I’d like to look at this being the delivery device for wider Linux acceptance.


The gist of the hardware is a small board with a SoC boasting a 1GHz clock, half a gig of ram, four gigs of flash, one USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It also has add-ons that make it a handheld and is being promoted as a gaming console. It’s amazing what you get out of these SoC’s for the cost these days, isn’t it?

For at least a decade people have claimed that this is the year of the Linux desktop. That’s not the right way to think. Adults are brand-loyal and business will stick to things that just work. Trying to convert those two examples is a sisyphean effort. But C.H.I.P. is picking up on a movement that started with Raspberry Pi.

These are entry-level computers and a large portion of the user-base will be kids. I haven’t had a hands-on with this new board, but the marketing certainly makes an effort to show how familiar the GUI will be. This is selling Linux and popular packages like LibreOffice without even tell people they’ll be adopting Linux. If the youngest Raspberry Pi users are maturing into their adolescence with C.H.I.P, what will their early adult years look like? At the least, they will not have an ingrained disposition against Open Source Software (unless experiences with Rasbperry Pi, C.H.I.P., and others is negative). At best they’ll fully embrace FOSS, becoming the next generation of code contributors and concept evangelists. Then every year will be the year of the Linux desktop.

Two Saturdays of Fun with Hackaday

Shake off the work week with Hackaday. Tomorrow we kick off Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA. This is a Zero to Product workshop, a meetup, and a free build day. The workshop and build sessions are full-full-full but you can still get in on social hour Saturday night. Please send us your RSVP. Full details on the weekend’s festivities are on our event page on

2nd Annual Bay Area Maker Faire Meetup

There are a ton of cool people descending on the Bay Area for Maker Faire in about a week, are you one of them? If so, join us at O’Neil’s for our second annual meetup! We’ll belly up to the bar starting at 7pm on the 16th. There will be several of the Hackaday crew there and we’re bring swag along with us. But the real attraction is all of the great hackers who show up. To get on the guest list you simply need to tell us you’re coming.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

We’re Giving out 125 Teensy-LC Boards this Week

This week we’re giving away 125 Teensy-LC Boards. You’ve sat on the sidelines long enough. Time to write down your Hackaday Prize idea and get it entered!

It isn’t just the big prize (a trip into space) on the line. Each week we’re giving away things to help your build. Below you can see the 50 projects which won a LightBlue Bean from last week’s giveaway. This week it’s a huge number of Teensy-LC boards going out to those who need them. These little wonders pack a real punch, with a 48 MHz ARM Cortex-M0+ that has 62K of flash, 8k of RAM, plenty of IO and a 12-bit analog module for both input and output! You’ll also be eligible for each of the future weekly giveaways… we’re distributing $50,000 in prizes to hundreds of projects over 17-weeks!

Entering is easy. Write down your idea to help solve a problem faced by a wide range of people. Start fleshing out your build plan. Pictures are a huge help, even if they’re just a hand-drawn sketch on some paper! Your best bet at getting recognized for a giveaway is to post a new project log which mentions how you would add this Teensy board to your creation.

Last Week’s 50 Winners of a LightBlue Bean


Congratulations to these 50 projects who were selected as winners from last week. You will receive a LightBlue Bean which combines Bluetooth LE with an ATmega328 in a nice little package ready for prototyping. Don’t forget to post pictures and information about what you build with these little wonders!

Each project creator will find info on redeeming their prize as a message on

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Safety Belt Holds Up Pants and Passwords

[Dan Williams] built a belt that holds up your pants while remembering your passwords. This was his project while camped out at the Hackaday Hardware Villiage at the 2015 TC Disrupt Hackathon last weekend.

safety-belt-pcb-sandwichThe idea started with the concept of a dedicated device to carry a complicated password; something that you couldn’t remember yourself and would be difficult to type. [Dan] also decided it would be much better if the device didn’t need its own power source, and if the user interface was dead simple. The answer was a wrist-band made up of a USB cable and a microcontroller with just one button.

To the right you can see the guts of the prototype. He is using a Teensy 2.0 board, which is capable of enumerating as an HID keyboard. The only user input is the button seen at the top. Press it once and it fires off the stored password. Yes, very simple to implement, but programming is just one part of a competition. The rest of his time was spent refining it into what could reasonably be considered a product. He did such a good job of it that he received an Honorable Mention from Hackaday to recognize his execution on the build.


IMG_20150502_183207[Dan] came up with the idea to have a pair of mating boards for the Teensy 2.0. One on top hosts the button, the other on the bottom has a USB port which is used as the “clasp” of the belt buckle. One side of the USB cable plugs into the Teensy, the other into this dummy-port. Early testing showed that this was too bulky to work as a bracelet. But [Dan] simply pivoted and turned it into a belt.

safety-belt-built-at-hackathon-thumb[Kenji Larsen] helped [Dan] with the PCB-sandwich. Instead of mounting pin sockets on the extra boards, they heated up the solder joints on a few of the Teensy pins and pushed them through with some pliers. This left a few pins sticking up above the board to which the button add-on board could be soldered.

To finish out the build, [Dan] worked with [Chris Gammell] to model a 2-part case for the electronics. He also came up with a pandering belt buckle which is also a button-cap. It’s 3D printed with the TechCrunch logo slightly recessed. He then filled this recess with blue painter’s tape for a nice contrast.

[Dan] on-stage presentation shows off the high-level of refinement. There’s not a single wire (excluding the USB belt cable) or unfinished part showing! Since he didn’t get much into the guts of the build during the live presentation we made sure to seek him out afterward and record a hardware walk through which is embedded below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: